A female video game pioneer, Wabbit’s Van Mai, is gone in history – so far

A female video game pioneer, Wabbit’s Van Mai, is gone in history – so far

Video game historians Kate Willaert and Kevin Bunch have been looking for Van Mai for years. They have sent letters all over Texas, where May worked Wabbit Apollo developer, and searched the internet and all kinds of drives. And now they have found her.

As it turns out, Mai’s name was not remembered correctly: For some time, historians believed that they were looking for a Vietnamese woman named “Ban Tran”. With the Video Game History Foundation community on a Discord channel dedicated to finding Mai, a team of partners realized Wabbit the developer they were looking for is actually Van Tran, who now listens to her married name, Van Mai. The team found her by searching the Texas bankruptcy records. When Apollo went bankrupt in the early 1980s, there were records of former employees filing in court to obtain royalties. Mai was one of those employees.

Willaert and Bunch were looking for Mai because of her involvement in Wabbit, the first video game for home consoles starring a woman. Released in 1982 on the Atari 2600, Wabbit Starring a character named Billie Sue, a girl who protects her carrot crops from rabbits.

“I do not think it is a big secret that the video game industry has been dominated by men since its inception, but that does not mean that no woman has played games and I think it is important to resist this narrative by celebrating the women who were “from there very early,” Bunch told Polygon.

Mai told her story to Bunch and Willaert, which can be found on the Video Game History Foundation website. (The video version of the story is embedded above.) Born in Vietnam, Mai came to the United States as a refugee at the end of the Vietnam War. He eventually learned computer programming – and was hired by Apollo after seeing a job advertisement in a local newspaper. She had not played games before, but her concept, which was aimed specifically at little girls, impressed the studio. It took four to six months to build, but Apollo went bankrupt shortly after its release.

It’s huge that people know its history now. as Polygon wrote in 2021, the gaming industry had a hard time keeping up with its own history – even with modern gaming. Understanding the impact of women in the early history of the game has also been overlooked.

“A lot of people out there believe that video games were created and have always been created by men for men, when before the Genesis era toys were usually marketed to the whole family and women did not stop making them as long as they knew. how to plan, “Willaert told Polygon. “Discouraging women from learning to plan is a whole other story, of course. But the reason why it is important to write about women who have been deleted from the history of gaming is the same reason why it is important to write about women who have been deleted from history in general: to prove that women are not like, biologically incompetent doing these things if given the chance ”.

Mai’s finding was a huge relief, Willaert said. for quite some time, the team believed he might have died. “A lot of people found a news article about a Ban Tran who was brutally murdered in the mid-1980s,” he said. “I would be somewhat reconciled with how the story ends, if we could just find confirmation that he was definitely the same person.”

Willaert continued: “The discovery of ‘Van Tran’ was such a significant change in my reality. “Even when Kevin told me he heard her, it almost did not seem true!”

After the closure of Apollo, Mai continued to work with former MicroGraphic Image colleagues, Willaert and Bunch wrote. After a few months of working on an Atari 5200 port Solar Foxleft the video game industry, making a short but impressive career.

“In the case of Van Mai, here is someone who not only made video games, but deliberately made a game specifically for young girls, a demographic that is still not well served,” Bunch said. “And it’s good that you honestly can’t say for the most part about Apollo production!”

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